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Last Updated: Monday, 4 April, 2005, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Interest grows for African pope
Cardinal Francis Arinze
Cardinal Francis Arinze is number four in the Catholic hierarchy
As African cardinals leave for Rome to attend the Pope's funeral, there is growing interest in the possibility of an African successor to John Paul II.

With some 130m African Catholics - more than one in 10 members of the faith worldwide - observers say it is not out of the question.

South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu has backed calls for the next pope to be African.

He would be the first Pope from Africa in 1,500 years.

According to Irish bookmaker Paddypower, Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze is equal favourite with Italian Dionigi Tettamanzi at 11 to 4 to be the papal successor.

I do not think there is a possibility of a non-white Pope in our lifetime
Heather Mutizwa Kazingizi
BBC Website reader

"Cardinal Arinze has a very good chance. He's been very loyal to Pope John Paul II. He's theologically conservative and not frightened to speak out," Catholic writer Greg Watts told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

He noted the cardinal would stick to the official Vatican line on banning condoms - a policy often criticised by HIV/Aids campaigners - but said he would be a "radical" candidate.

"I think a pope from a country like Nigeria would challenge the capitalist, imperialist philosophy that leaves the world split between the rich and poor," he said.

'Conservative'

However, Catholic commentators in South Africa sounded less certain that the election of an African Pope would be the first choice of African Catholics.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
We hope that perhaps the cardinals when they meet will follow the first non-Italian Pope by electing the first African Pope
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Bishop Jabulani Nxumalo, the Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Durban, suggested that the national origin of the Pope's successor would not be the first concern.

"I did not see John Paul II as a Polish Pope, but as a person of substance," Bishop Nxumalo told BBC News Website.

"Most important is to get a sound and solid leader. Where he comes from is a matter of indifference to me."

Gunther Simmermacher, the editor of South Africa's Catholic newspaper, The Southern Cross, suggested that Catholics would put doctrinal issues first in determining which candidate they would wish to see elected.

"Arinze is seen as a rather conservative cardinal, and I would imagine South African Catholics who are more progressive would rather see a different cardinal being elected. On the other hand, more conservative Catholics might favour Arinze," Mr Simmermacher told the BBC News Website.

Mandela's privilege

Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson - one of 117 cardinals eligible to attend the conclave to select the new pope - says by creating so many African cardinals in his time, Pope John Paul II acknowledged the importance of Africa.

African Popes in history
St Victor (189-199) 14th Pope Born in Africa
St Miltiades (311-314) 32nd Pope Born in Africa
St Gelasius I (492-496) 49th Pope Born in Rome of African descent

source: www.popechart.com

"I've always interpreted the creation of these cardinals as a recognition of the growth and maturity of the [African] church," he told the BBC.

But he didn't say who would get his vote, adding "every bishop is potentially a pope".

Tributes for the Pope continue to pour in from across Africa, including South Africa's former President Nelson Mandela, who said it had been a privilege to meet him.

"Pope John Paul II was a consistent voice articulating the need for moral regeneration and caring for the poor and marginalised," he said in a statement.

John Paul's legacy

In Zimbabwe, the Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, praised the Pope as an "outstanding leader".

A Nigerian child reads newspapers carrying pictures of John Paul II
Africans account for more than one in 10 Catholics

"He was very concerned about Africa, as well as other trouble spots such as the Middle East," Archbishop Ncube told AFP.

"He was concerned about the Aids crisis. He felt much more could be done," Archbishop Ncube added.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe - himself a Catholic, and someone frequently criticised by Archbishop Ncube - described John Paul II as "a very virtuous man, a virtuous leader of the Catholic Church".

During an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation to mark his Zanu-PF party's recent victory in parliamentary elections, Mr Mugabe said small nations such as Zimbabwe feared "the bullies of this world", and hoped that big nations would pay heed to the Pope's message of peace.




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Pilgrims gather as Pope's body lies in state



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